March 9, 2006 12:30 AM PST

Reality check for the much-hyped Origami PC

Bill Gates' vision of an ultramobile PC seemed like a winner: a device with all-day battery life, yet small enough to fit in a pocket and much cheaper than a laptop.

But as devices begin to come out a year later, reality still trails Microsoft's ambitions. The first generation of devices, being announced Thursday and already featured on Microsoft's site, are bigger, pricier and more power hungry than the software maker had hoped.

Microsoft acknowledges that instead of a mass-market hit riding a wave of prelaunch hype, these devices are likely to appeal only to the most hard-core gadget fans.

Ultramobile PCs

"This is definitely our first step in looking at the area of ultramobile PCs," said Mika Krammer, a Windows marketing director for Microsoft's mobile platforms.

Over the last year, several PC makers have been readying minitablets under the Origami code name. These minitablets are capable of running Windows XP along with a "Windows Touch Pack" that allows the devices to be more easily controlled using fingertip input. Microsoft expects that "gadget geeks" will make up most of the early buyers of the devices, which weigh roughly two pounds, pack a 7-inch screen and cost around $800.

"To really hit the mass market...in the hundreds of thousands and the millions of customers, we have to improve," Krammer said. The devices that begin shipping in April are likely to be more of a niche product, he said.

That's a far cry from the "dream" machines some envisioned when Gates first described his ultramobile concept last April.

In some ways, Microsoft has been the victim of its own success and some wild speculation. Rumors circulated that the company might have a portable Xbox or iPod killer in the works. Although Microsoft had hoped a teaser site would generate interest ahead of the launch, it had no idea it would create the buzz it did.

"We had anticipated some interest in what we were doing, but this has received a lot more interest than we expected," Krammer said.

In search of a market
The initial devices run the Tablet PC edition of Windows XP, along with the "Touch Pack," which includes new software for playing back media, as well as a "program launcher" that makes it easier to find and run programs stored on the device. New settings so make scroll bars and icons bigger and more easily navigated by a fingertip. Text can also be input using two thumbs via an on-screen keyboard. The software includes the popular puzzle game, Sudoku.

During a joint presentation with Intel at the CeBit trade show in Germany, Microsoft will show its software running on a Samsung device. Other Intel-based products are expected from Taiwan's Asus and China's Founder, while some companies, including Tablet Kiosk and PaceBlade Japan, are using processors from Via Technologies.

NPD Group analyst Stephen Baker was skeptical of how much appeal the first round of devices will have. "It's a product in search of a market," he said. It's too expensive for the things it does, Baker said, and is "too under-featured to do some of the other things it needs to do."

One opportunity exists, Baker said, if hardware makers can bring down the price tag by convincing cellular carriers to subsidize the product for buyers that sign up for new wireless service.

IDF Spring 2006

The Origami specification doesn't require any kind of wireless connectivity, but many of the devices will have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or both. There is also the possibility of a cellular data modem, which would provide an option for the devices to be sold--and partly underwritten--by wireless carriers. Of course, such wireless technology also adds to the cost of making the devices.

Intel, too, sees a bigger market if the industry can produce smaller devices with better battery life and a lower price tag. It showed its concept devices on Tuesday at its annual Intel Developer Forum.

The first generation devices are "going to be great for early adopters," Intel Marketing Director Brad Graff said. But for the masses, "These are bigger than what we want."

As for the next generation, Microsoft is already working on how to equip future devices with Windows Vista, the operating system update coming later this year. Vista has built-in support for touch screens and power-management features that could be useful Origami devices. Krammer said Microsoft hopes to have ultramobile PCs running Vista available as soon as the new Windows version ships.

See more CNET content tagged:
minitablet PC, Stephen Baker, Origami PC, ultramobile PC, reality

75 comments

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Origami hype
It doesn't look as if Origami has much of a future in business without a keyboard - virtual or otherwise. Just who, exactly, is this aimed at? At the moment it sounds like an expensive Playstation.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Look again...
If you go on Microsoft's UMPC site, there's a demo video that includes a shot of the virtual keyboard; it's split, and appears in the bottom corners so you can hit the "buttons" with your thumbs as you hold the device at either end. Clever.

The devices also seem to be Bluetooth compliant, so BT keyboards are an option, not to mention USB.

If these devices perform reasonably well, I want one badly. Much easier to carry around than a laptop.
Posted by Thunderbuck (62 comments )
Link Flag
Medical profession
As the US forces medical professionals to electronic medical
records this could be a huge area of growth. I use a tablet for
computer charting and something like this might be useful, but the
current software I use works better with more pixels and a large
screen. I'm not sure how I'd like squinting at 1080 x 768 pixels on
a 7 inch screen
Posted by Olu070 (49 comments )
Link Flag
Keyboard
I agree, It needs a keyboard..!!
Posted by DB50 (1 comment )
Link Flag
First guess maybe correct.....
.... a cell phone on steroids, with no end of services to pay for. I
parked my Newtons a long time ago. I won't even bother buying
one of these.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I won't either
For all the hype, this thing is a huge disappointment. It's a tablet PC, and the market for it has to be some subset (keyword: subset) of either the laptop market or the PDA market. But this is too big to replace PDA's, and doesn't really act as a good fit to replace my laptop.

This will go the same route as BOB.
Posted by R. U. Sirius (745 comments )
Link Flag
And this is exciting why?
I have had a Fujitsu P1510D for a while now.
These devices are not any better, lighter, don't have a longer battery life and lack the keyboard to use make it a convertible.
I also have not seen a docking station.

Sorry Microsoft, a day late and a dollar short.
Posted by AlexRiedel (24 comments )
Reply Link Flag
shut up and consume
:)
Posted by rch99 (4 comments )
Link Flag
Where Am I?
Ha ha hah. Origami has made me laugh from the moment I saw the "mysterious" Flash promo on origamiproject.com. From the moment I saw it was a Microsoft product, I knew it would not be the revolutionary product they tried to make it seem on the promo. Don't get me wrong, the idea of a mini tablet PC, smaller and more portable than a laptop is very appealing, but not at the announced price tag. For a few more hundred dollars, I can buy myself a proper laptop, which seems to be less power hungry than these devices.
Posted by Sentinel (199 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'm so excited!
No I'm not. I too knew all the hype was just that. It's nothing new or revolutionary, it's just smaller.

Here's my review in a word:

Weaksauce.


Back to work you slackers!
Posted by Mr. Network (92 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Bad Timing
It would seem to me to be bad timing to "launch" these things in the shadow of Windos Vista. For a new hyped product not to be able to run Vista, which is not that far away, would have negative influence on the "geek" and first adopter buyer.
Posted by jmmejzz (107 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Didn't the tablet already bomb?
Ultramobile? I don't think I have any pockets that could fit this beast.

I think they should cut their losses with this tablet stuff and spend some money debugging the mess they've already created.
Posted by andy_oh (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
SuSe
I wonder if I can put SuSe on it?!
Posted by Geeklan (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'd like to give it a shot
Anyone got one they'd be willing to "loan" to me? ;)
Posted by (5 comments )
Link Flag
Could be good
As a student who spends much of my down time in search of an open computer lab, i can say oragimi would be awesome IF, it weren't $1,000. I think students would be a perfect market, you could work on all of your papers right on the device, you could take notes on it ect. I would definitly be in the market for one if it weren' $1,000 I mean really i could buy a laptop these days for $500. Why would I bother with oragami? I think their problem is that they're trying to make this too many things... If this were more like a glorified dell axim then maybe id bite, but its reall a stripped down overpriced tablet pc...
Posted by matt02429 (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Students
I think you'd find as many students with this as a PDA. Not
anyone I know has a PDA. They're just too small, and notebooks
make better companions when you're studying.

As for papers, students are more likely to spend 500 on a Dell
desktop than a first generation tech toy.

The only portable device you'll really see on campus is a MP3
player. Even laptops are confined mostly to the desk/bed.
Especially since a lot of universities have limited WiFi coverage
areas that don't include classrooms or lecture halls.

After all, isn't just a $500 Mead notebook if you can't surf teh
interwebs while in class?
Posted by ethernet76 (88 comments )
Link Flag
Missing most important feature today...
Built-in 3G! (IMHO) Using Bluetooth to connect to a 3G Bluetooth mobile adds $100s more to price tag - plus drains two batteries for the function of one.

Too bad MS missed this boat, again...

Will wait for Apple's iPuter. They'll get it right the first time.
Posted by mopeon (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Now we know why they kept it a secret
It's another great example of the Microsoft design philosophy--"Designed by nerds-for nerds" (or in this case, for rich nerds!)
Posted by Norseman (1319 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Looks like a badly targeted PSP
From all the hype it really unclear as to who this device is targeted at. It's certainly not a replacement for a laptop and it's certainly not a replacement for a more mobile device like a PDA or high-end cellphone. So who is the target audience.
Posted by (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
o rly?
Considering that it could do most things that a laptop could, I'd say that its a laptop replacement. It is most definately NOT specifically targeted to take on the PSP. That is just plain ludicrous.
Posted by Bobman (114 comments )
Link Flag
Put a Cell Phone in It!
This is a "tweener" device great for non-busines folks on the go. Shopping, travel, leisure time. Therefore, it needs to be an entertainment, shopping, information, connectivity device, including phone, for adults.

Point it at a storefront, it retrieves the latest coupon. Sit on a bench and watch the latest news/sports. Call your daughter in college and see her/she sees you. Take a picture with flash.

It'll fly! Just show the soccer moms and boomers!
Posted by rayted32-191126880979139043961 (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Or...
Use a $500 laptop running the OS of choice, and still have enough cash left over to buy things without needing coupons, fly to your daughter's college for a visit, and take a picture with a nice camera.
Posted by Steve Jordan (126 comments )
Link Flag
Bluetooth to Phone
The capability to connect to the Internet via bluetooth through your cellphone is a much better solution. Cell phone technology changes rapidly, new networks, frequencies, protocols, company mergers, etc., and cell phone companies are notorious about not updating their devices with service packs and such. The bluetooth option is a better way to go because it seperates the UMPC from the communications hardware and will prevent obsolescence of the devices.
Posted by kingwr (31 comments )
Link Flag
Taking a page out of Jobs' playbook
And, finally MSFT manages it - To create hype around its product that matched the kind of hype Apple always does.

Of course, the product is nothing great. But, hey, at least you got the hype part right!
Posted by shikarishambu (89 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's a NEWTON!!!!!!!
Funny stuff - looks like Microsoft came out with a Newton about a decade too late. Read this quote with the Newton in mind...
"It's a product in search of a market," he said. It's too expensive for the things it does, Baker said, and is "too under-featured to do some of the other things it needs to do."
Posted by mtremain (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I'd like one if
it didn't cost so much, wasn't so big, and wasn't just shrunken tablet pc.

If it has a touch screen, then make the device as big as the screen, why do I want all this extra real estate on the sides of the screen. The pictures of people holding it look like they are about to play a giant gameboy. No thanks.

It can't really be that expensive to make a portable PC with a touchscreen. lower the price!

I like the idea of running windows xp(vista really) on a small device that i can play music/watch video/check email/do work with/whatever a pc does. If I could actually run any program that works on windows on it I'd love it. Itd be great for car rides/planes/subway or for lunch time, down time etc. I think it could have alot of uses. I find my PDA to be too one dimensional. I have an ultraportable laptop, and it's fine, but something even smaller would be great.

Someone other then MS make this please.
Posted by hugh dunnit (35 comments )
Reply Link Flag
One the extra real estate
on the sides, imagine holding it one handed, reading it like a book. I think it is nice to have somthing to grip onto that is not the screen, as I invision using a device like this one handed a lot. That is also the reason I like having some controls on the front, for scrolling and such.
As for the size, I like it. The screen is easily readable, unlike my PDA half the time.
And why the 'someone other then MS make this please'? MS makes the software, which appears quite usable and friendly. The hardware makers need to get the price of the components down, as well as the battery life up (a lot).
Posted by catch23 (436 comments )
Link Flag
Mobile Virus Generator?
MVG, yeah, that's it...
Posted by booboo1243 (328 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Makes no sense with Digital Rights Management
This device makes no sense. I can get a 2 1.2 lb laptop with a 10 inch screen - yes it is more expensive - but it is also more capable. I can get a DVD player that looks like a tablet with the DVD built in for $400. What good is this without a DVD drive? If I could transfer DVDs to the hard drive - yes, I could see it - but is this intended to encourage people to download software to rip DVDs to the hard drive??
Posted by bruscol (41 comments )
Reply Link Flag
An Idiot
You Sir, are an idot.
Posted by PyresFlood (1 comment )
Link Flag
Hype was from the press!
This was hyped up by the press not MicroSoft. If this can eventually work upto a day with a battery charge and the price comes down, and if the Wi-Fi connectivity cost is not too steep - this will be a great hit. I'll buy one for sure.
Posted by SammySamad (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Who will use this?
I mean, its too big to carry around casually like an ipod or palm pilot. I can't just slip it in my bag. And it lacks the functionality of a laptop so why would I bring this over a laptop? And why would I hook this up to an external GPS unit for navigation when I can just buy a standalone GPS receiver for 1/10 the cost and takes up 1/2 the dashboard space. When will we see an iPod sized device with camera, phone and full PDA functionality? Now that will deserve some hype!
Posted by manishe (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Who will use this?
Granted it may not be used by the masses, but some of us, myself included, have been waiting for something like this for awhile!! I want something better than a collection of 8.5x11" paper pages held together by large binder rings, known to newspaper carriers as throw books! I have to keep track of over 900 addresses, with over 700 active addresses daily, before I can throw the daily newspapers in subcribers drive ways. I have to daily update my throw book to reflect what addresses have requested vacation stops or restarts, the throw books use Excel format. In my case, a PDA is too small and even a small laptop is too big, for use in my own pickup, along with several hundred rolled and bagged newspapers! Thank you very much!
Posted by Villages263 (1 comment )
Link Flag
GranTop or GrampsPC
I saw a post on another thread saying that the larger screen and bigger overall size of the UMPC compared with PDAs/Smartphones would be very attractive to senior citizens, who find small screens and tiny buttons hard to use.

Given that seniors will comprise a increasingly large proportion of the population in years to come, this may well be a viable demographic for the UMPC.

I think I'll run off and trademark GranTop and GrampsPC, just in case.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Link Flag
I will!
This device offers a LOT of functionality that I can't find anywhere else. I'm a long-haul trucker, and I can use this device to store audio books and my complete music collection. "Get an iPod", you say, but I can also store and play recorded TV for my downtime on the road, and I like the larger screen for that.

It would also provide me Internet access in hotspots, and the potential for GPS is intriguing.

I had been looking at a Tablet PC, but this would honestly be easier to carry around and be generally more useful.
Posted by Thunderbuck (62 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft, software, ideas, solutions.
So, Before all the bashers and fanboys start commenting, Microsoft makes software, ideas, solutions. Yes its looking for a market, but its up to the manfactures to develope the hardware. Cant wait wait to see the 2nd gen.

ps. remember what the initial thought about the smartphone?
Posted by stevebor1 (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I think you guys may be lacking vision a little
I agree that this will not revolutionize the world over night, but neither did the iPod if you recall. I applaud MS for innovating rather than sitting back. Personally, I don't believe that PCs (or Macs) will always be boxes that sit on/under your desk nor will their mobile counterpart remain a clamshell-keyboard combination. Tablet PCs probably would have taken off if they werent so expensive.

This could be the form factor of the future. Battery life may prevent this version from revolutionizing the world but then again maybe not. Look at the PSP  people drop $300+ and then purchase UMD movies for that thing and all it does is play games and movies. Some people are still dropping $400+ on PDAs that are really only good at calendar/contact management. Others are dropping $1000+ on mobile navigation systems for their cars and they only do GPS (have to buy an add-on GPS for Origami but still cheaper). I just spent $300 on an iPod and all it does is music and teeny-tiny video& I guess my point is that this device COULD replace all of those easily. (OK maybe not my iPod - for now).

Regarding pracitality - many sales people run their entire business from their car and this thing could be the default solution for entering data. In fact, sales people always take notes while on sales calls but would never whip out a laptop  that would be tacky. Next time you have a sales person in your office imagine them pulling out a laptop, then contrast that image to them pulling out a little digital notepad and jotting notes. The difference may seem small but its not.

Im sure no one here pays attention to the Mac rumor sites, but theres a very real possibility that MS just beat Mac to the punch with Origami as far as form-factor goes. I think that the success of the iPod combined with the fact that OS X is arguably a better OS may have finally opened Microsofts eyes a bit. Maybe they finally see that in the long-term they need to innovate or die. I dont see them dying anytime soon. Bottom line: This is a cool product that could potentially revolutionize computing but its success hinges on Microsofts ability to market it.

For those of you who hate either MS or Apple or both please disregard this post  none of my arguments make any sense if you refuse to acknowledge the fact that the world is becoming platform-agnostic.
Posted by gizmonationcom (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well reasoned post, but nope, just haven't just the kool-aid!
You're right that computers in the FUTURE will be much different,
but this UMPC is taking such baby steps - a crippled way to run the
same old OS intended for a desktop - that the future is as far off as
ever.

Nice to dream though, and it's good you have more vision than
most people.
Posted by dotmike (154 comments )
Link Flag
Next Big Thing
I believe that this is one of the few products which could claim a spot as the next big thing to happen in the PC revolution.

Being a previous owner of a Newton I saw the benefits of such a device and can see the future of a Net & GPS connected, computer-like, music/video, organiser, phone companion.

To day that Microsof tis innovating would be a strecth - Newton was an innovation, this is an attempt to do it better. As to Microsoft's ability to a make a consumer oriented device which actualy works and is reliable is very doubtful - Apple is more likely to come out with this than MS, who doesn't understand the consumer (or seem to care about them) , and Apple has shown with the iPod that it can take an existing idea (the music player) and turn it into a mainstream hit. With their Disney /Pixar connections they are better positioned to make it happen for video as well, and the iPod phone thing is really just a matter of time and logistics (commercial realities).

I'm excited about the prospect of a small device like the iPod providing me with the platform to add-on what I need (GPS/Net/software/viodeo/phone etc.) - however I think there are quite a few users who would avoid it if it were Tablet PC (MS) based due to the insecurities, unreliability (not to mention a lack of sytle). I mean really - who wants to carry around a device that contains everything important to you that constantly gets compromised by viruses etc, and requires a expensive software upgrade every year for no good feature-related benefit?

But whoever takes this market is going to have to work well with other partners to achieve it (Motorola/Nokis/Sony etc) and I can't see MS making much ground in the phone business sincet they are scared of MS and have made their own softare standard. I think it's Apple's market to lose at this stage.
Posted by gpenglase (87 comments )
Link Flag
Innovate?
There is nothing innovative here. Not in the slightest. This is a rehashed idea, that is typically "nderfeatured and overpriced like everything else from Microsoft.
Posted by Bill Dautrive (1179 comments )
Link Flag
Newton 2.0?
Just like the original Tablet PCs and Apple Newton this appears to be a product in search of a market. It's too expensive (I can buy a inexpensive laptop that has a bigger screen, more storage and more capabilities for hundreds less (TigerDirect was selling a refurbished Gateway laptop with a faster Celeron processor, 60 gig HD, CD-RW/DVD combo drive, 15.4" screen and more for $599)) - why would I buy this thing? If I wanted small I can buy a PDA or even a Palm-OS or Windows-based mobile phone for less. I don't see this becoming the 'next big thing' under ANY circumstances...
Posted by GraveDigger27 (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Looks like a beefed up PMC to me
What makes this different than the Creative Zen Vision or other PMC's? I mean, sure, it's a little more powerful, some new software and a little bit of functionality added, but what makes this so life changing, significant, or amazing? I dont see the point. PDA's and smartphones can have the functionality of Origami devices, albiet with much smaller screen- but they still can do everything the Origami can.
Posted by naterandrews (256 comments )
Reply Link Flag
WOW!!!
Looks like Microsoft has gone the way Apple did with its Newton all
right! Bill Gates really learned a lot from Steve Jobs. For the first
time MS has an innovative product and behaves like Apple. Can I
use Newton OS or Mac OS X on it? Okay, then can I run Bayanihan
Linux in it? Can I? Can I? Please?
Posted by benjiernmd (123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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